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The Highlands Of West Cavan

Written by the late Pat McGovern (Dunboyne)

As I sit here alone my thoughts wander to my boyhood days in West Cavan, where I herded sheep on the moorland and fished for trout in the Owenmore river. I watched fascinated as the British Warplanes flew over Cuilcagh to Northern Ireland…

Now the old folk are gone, their houses deserted. Sadly the finest boys and girls cross the gap of hope to seek a decent life in the USA or UK. In so doing, many a romance perished as those left behind had to care for ageing relatives. Our emigrants worked hard, walked tall and were a credit to themselves and our country.

I missed the fragrance of Woodbine and the crake of the corncrake at evenings close. Then, there were hospitable houses at every hilltop and on the lower slopes of the mountain, where dances were occasionally held till the morning dew arrived. The affable Parish Priest held a dance in Glan Hall every weekend and kept a watching brief on the attendance. Music was supplied by local musicians led by the multi-talented man from the Barrs.

That was then… As of now seventy percent of these happy homes are in ruins, chimney breast and cold hearth stone surviving defiantly in the undergrowth, sad evidence of a nearly forgotten era. No formal education was available then but that situation has changed for the better. The children of my contemporaries abroad are educated and doing credit to their country. Then, the old folk toiled with primitive tools and reared large families on a shoestring budget. They are now sleeping under a marble cross in the hill cemetery.

Many of our exiles, as the wheel of life runs down, take their sleep on foreign soil. Their spirits return one last time to the old homestead, the once happy hearth now cold. Our exiles maintain their interest in Gaelic culture and in particular some of our own displayed exemplary leadership in helping those only finding their way.

In our isolated glen, we have had our triumphs as well as tragedies over the years. McGovern, the Glan man, piped the water supply from the Catskills to New York, reducing the temperature in Hells Kitchen. Terrible Terry Mc Govern was World Lightweight Boxing Champion early in the 20th Century. His songs first lines read “From the back-ways of Brooklyn Mc Govern came, he conquered the Briton, the Yank and the Dane”.

He died in his prime from alcohol which was familiar to many of us. Paul Dolan competed in the Helsinki Olympics and held the 220 yards National Record for 25 years. Pat Mc Govern, Carthys Bridge won gold medals at successive Paralympics for swimming.

They are all now competing in the heavens, a stark reminder of the fragility of life.
Hail the day when Irish soil will accommodate its sons and daughters…

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